Jacques to Leave Helm of HRC

Rumors swirl whether lobbying figure was fired in post-election shake-up

Cheryl Jacques, head of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest gay lobby, has announced that she is resigning.

On Tuesday evening, the HRC board of directors issued a statement that said the parting was the result of “a difference in management philosophy.” However, a source familiar with the situation claims Jacques was fired because many board members have been unhappy for some time with her management style, and that the decision was finally made earlier in the week during a conference call in which Jacques’ position was “a topic of considerable discussion.”

Last January, Jacques was tapped to succeed Elizabeth Birch as head of the HRC, giving up her post as a Massachusetts state senator which she held for almost twelve years. Her appointment was somewhat controversial; she faced questions about her commitment to LGBT issues, having only publicly come out three years earlier, eight years after she was first elected to the Massachusetts Senate. Jacques was head of the HRC slightly longer than the ten months it took to recruit her.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Human Rights Campaign says its mission includes lobbying Congress, educating politicians and the public about issues that affect the LGBT community and supporting the election of LGBT-supportive politicians.

Taking over as interim executive directors will be co-chairs Michael Berman and Hilary Rosen. Berman is president of the Washington lobbying firm, the Duberstein Group, and Rosen is a former chief executive and lobbyist for the Recording Industry of America, as well as the partner of Elizabeth Birch, HRC’s previous executive director. According to the HRC press release, Rosen also led HRC’s strategic efforts to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Jacques has been given credit for successfully lobbying for the defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as growing the HRC membership rolls to 600,000 people and the organization’s budget to a record $30 million annually.

Despite these accomplishments, the HRC board apparently felt it was time for Cheryl Jacques to leave.

The timing seemed strangely coincidental with the poor showing gay groups made during the November election. Not only did George W. Bush win a comfortable majority in the popular vote despite a major HRC campaign against him, all eleven states that had gay marriage bans on their ballots passed those measures.

“It has nothing to do with this past election. Zero. I can tell you with absolute total credibility,” Berman told the Washington Post on Tuesday.

Criticism had been launched at HRC for endorsing John Kerry for president while also claiming to be a bipartisan organization, and alienating mainstream Americans by aggressively championing same-sex marriage rights. Sidelined by an unfriendly Congress and a presidency dominated by conservatives, the organization also found itself unable to pass major legislation like the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, also known as the Federal Hate Crimes Bill, that would have added sexual orientation to the list of federally hate crimes.

Roberta Sklar, communications director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) said blaming HRC for focusing too much on marriage rights was the same trap everyone had fallen into after the November election.

“Blaming the gays for the defeat is wrong. The fact is the right wing was putting these initiatives on the ballots and we had to respond to them,” Sklar said.

Regarding Jacques’ sudden departure from the HRC, Sklar also said that such changes in leadership are part of the normal course in any organization.

“There’s no reason not to think that this is an unusual occurrence,” she said.

A spokesman for HRC, Steve Fisher, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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